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Standing proud on a hillside in Dorset, the Cerne Abbas Giant has long been a cause of much speculation. Is he a prehistoric figure? Is he Iron Age in date – Hercules has been suggested as the model for the figure. Or is he more recent? An ancient fertility symbol, or a pastiche political cartoon from much later?  

The investigation of the hill figure’s history is being undertaken by the National Trust in celebration of their having overseen the site for the last 100 years. 

Soil samples taken from the deepest levels of the chalk giant’s elbows and feet  before the pandemic lockdown in March 2020 have been found to contain microscopic land snails shells that did not appear in England until the 13–14 Centuries. And analysis of recent LIDAR scans of the figure strongly suggest that the giant’s famous ‘appendage’ is very much a later addition.

The samples taken last year were subjected to OSL (optically stimulated luminescence) analysis to determine the date(s) of the giant, and the figures are now available – but the National Trust are teasing us as the results will not be released until midnight tonight.

Given our focus upon the prehistoric, I suspect that our interest in the Giant at Cerne Abbas will be reduced after the announcement. My personal guess is that it will be dated as late medieval at best, if not later! We shall soon see…

News has come to us about the latest project from Golden Tree Productions, a community interest company that develops and delivers constructive cultural projects that uncover and celebrate Cornwall’s distinctiveness and diversity. They are the team behind the recent Man Engine project, which was displayed to a total of 146 thousand people in a 10-day tour around Cornwall in 2016.

Their latest project, ‘Kerdroya: Cornish Hedge Community Heritage Project’ is currently in planning, and the idea is that local master hedgers will work with community groups and schools between April and November 2019, passing on knowledge and skills to create a diverse team of ‘Hedge Stewards’. A number of hedges will be restored and rebuilt in the local styles and will comprise a Cornwall-wide trail culminating at Colliford Lake on Bodmin Moor in November 2020. This final site will take the form of a classical labyrinth (similar to those found in the Rocky Valley near Tintagel).

Rocky Valley Labyrinths

Built of traditional Cornish hedging with a 56m diameter, Kerdroya, the Cornish Landscape Labyrinth will be a major new piece of public art to last for generations to come, where visitors will have a fully immersive experience as they walk a single, meandering path through stretches of artisan stonework celebrating the aesthetics of distinct hedging styles from the previously restored Cornwall Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) sections. At its heart, a 10m circular space will open out to breath-taking views across the moorland and lake.

Artist’s impression of the Colliford Labyrinth

It is intended that the Kerdroya Cornish Landscape Labyrinth will open in November with construction work starting in April. Although some funding is being provided by investment from Cornwall AONB, Arts Council England, the National Lottery Heritage Fund and Cornwall Council, both corporate and individual sponsorship opportunities are available. A new website for individual sponsorship pledges will open next week, March 2nd.

 

The Uffington Horse, in Oxfordshire was the site of the first meeting of the founders of Heritage Action, which led to the eventual creation of the Heritage Journal, published continuously since 2006.

Although the figure is thought to date to the Iron Age or even the Bronze Age, like many other chalk hill figures the image must be regularly ‘refreshed’ with fresh chalk to ensure the figure continues to stand out in the landscape.

This refreshing of the chalk is often carried out by volunteer labour, under instruction from the figure’s guardian organisation – in this case, the National Trust. This year the re-chalking is due to take place on the weekend of 4th-5th July and anyone who would like to lend a hand is asked to book in advance. The work involves being given a hammer and a bucket of chalk and then bashing the chalk into the existing monument for an hour or so to help brighten the image.

A great way to meet like-minded individuals, and contribute to the upkeep of a national treasure (that doesn’t involve handing over cash to the NT!)

Paddy Power has been brandalising again,  this time at the Cerne Abbas Giant.

They are well aware they shouldn’t (because of the danger of unauthorised and damaging copycatting) for back in 2012 they brandalised Uffington (see below) and dealt with the criticism by donating some penance money to charity, whereupon they seem to have been forgiven.

uff8

But the message from the Trust has never been firm enough. Of the latest Paddy Power stunt they said they didn’t encourage that sort of thing but in 2003 they accepted £2,000 for allowing this, see below, promoting Big Brother and then, after complaints about the lack of respect for monuments and the bad example it set, their spokesman announced “we might have got this wrong”. Too true. How about a policy stronger than “we do not encourage”?

bb2003

A while back Stewart Lee in the Observer had a powerful message for both Paddy Power and the Trust:


Last weekend, the world woke to find Morrisons had projected an image of a cut-price baguette on to the outstretched wings of Antony Gormley’s iconic public artwork The Angel of the North. The stick of bread was the perfect shape to occupy the Angel’s wingspan, and one wonders what other products Morrisons might have filled Gormley’s emotionally resonant secular sacred space with next. A toilet brush perhaps?

In March 2012, the stupid bookmakers Paddy Power celebrated the Cheltenham horse murdering festival by drawing a jockey overnight on to the 3,000-year-old chalky flanks of White Horse of Uffington. Paddy Power claim to have done no damage and instead their own blog invited us to think of them as “lovable scamps” and “mischief makers”, the Horrid Henrys of wilful cultural vandalism.

Our last culture minister suggested that public art’s only value was commercial, and our new culture minister supports ticket touts, suggesting culture’s value is merely whatever the market wants to pay for it. In receipt of such mixed messages, is it any wonder Morrisons looked at the aching wingspan of Gormley’s Angel and saw only an empty space that wasn’t being maximally monetised?

And that’s where we are now. Ancient forests can be destroyed, if equal amounts of trees are planted somewhere else, an inherent sense of place and historical resonance translated into the worth of its mere weight in wood. It’s me that’s out of step, I am sure.”

 

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For some reason The word “Theresa” has been spelled out on the Cerne Abbot Giant’s penis. The painted hardboard letters were added on Monday. The National Trust, which manages the protected site, slammed the prank amid fears it had damaged the figure, which is both a Scheduled Ancient Monument and part of a Site of Special Scientific Interest). National Trust countryside manager Rob Rhodes said:

“It is a time-consuming waste of our resources as a charity to repair the damage and clean up after such incidents when the money we are given could be spent instead on other conservation projects. As a Scheduled Ancient Monument, the giant has the highest archaeological protection and any damage from pegging down boards would be an offence. The site is also protected as important chalk grassland for its wildflowers, and the butterflies and wildlife that supports, and is easily damaged.”

Well yes, but we have been protesting for years (16 times since 2010) about guardians such as the Trust not taking a strong and consistent line against ALL brandalism, for fear of damaging copycatting. On occasion guardians have even taken payment to allow stunts. Let’s hope they now understand. Amusing yes, but ultimately damaging too.

Perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise, given that they are lobbying for the Stonehenge World Heritage site to be grievously damaged, but Heritage England has just retweeted this from its archive:.

Retweeted

In 2007 Homer Simpson took a trip to Dorset…….. https://historicengland.org.uk/images-books/archive/collections/aerial-photos/ 

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What possessed them to drag that up again after a decade and without a word of criticism? We’ve lost count of how many times we’ve asked heritage guardians not to publicise cheap brandalism stunts at heritage sites, particularly without condemning them, for fear copycatting will happen, but it’s well over twenty. Perhaps an article we published back in 2010 best sums up our feelings:

With the most recent incidents of vandalism affecting the Uffington White Horse and the Wilmington Long Man, the history of hill figures in the present century is dominated by turn overs – adoptions and adaptations by such as political groups, fundraisers, television and film stunts, advertisers, sporting patriots, and pranksters. In some cases this has been done with the consent and assistance of site guardians and heritage organisations that claim it could be achieved anyway with photography or mock-ups so they decide to control and financially benefit. In cases where it was not with the consent of such bodies, whether graffiti spraying, digging, or burning, it can have a lasting impact on the archaeology as well as the appearance. In all of these cases without exception, whether officially sanctioned or disapproved, it has lowered the public perception and esteem of hill figures as monuments.

Time to change stance guardians and heritage organisations – let the media know you disapprove of turn overs and why. Let’s get these cheapening stunts seen for what they are by the public, and let us all afford these unique monuments the time honoured respect they deserve.

Of course, we’re mere amateurs and not being paid so we’re unlikely to be listened to on this subject (and haven’t been for 15 years) but that doesn’t mean we aren’t dead right. It will be interesting to see how Houdini, Historic England’s new media manager, will comply in this case with his/her job description to “respond to sensitive stories that may put the organisation’s reputation at risk“.

If you’re looking for something to do on this coming Bank Holiday weekend, the National Trust invites you to help ‘Chalk the Uffington White Horse‘ May 3–4.

Once a year the famous Bronze-Age horse, that watches over the Vale of White Horse in Uffington, needs re-chalking. To take part, booking is essential, and can be done by calling 01793 762209.  30- minute time slots will be allocated to volunteers from 10am onwards. Car parking at the site is free for permit holders, NT members with valid stickers and disabled badge carriers. Otherwise, charges for up to two hours are £2.00, all day £4.00.

Painting of the White Horse, bu Heritage Action member, Jane Tomlinson. See http://www.janetomlinson.com for more of her work.

Painting of the White Horse, by Heritage Action member, Jane Tomlinson. See http://www.janetomlinson.com for more of her work.

zebra

This was done on April Fool’s day. It’s not that we don’t have a sense of humour, but wouldn’t it be better if public monuments weren’t used as public canvasses – even for a short time or without causing damage or “for charity”.

As we see it, each time it happens it increases the chances of someone uncaring or unhinged copycatting elsewhere to make a political, religious or “humorous” statement of their own in a way that’s physically damaging. There have been lots of “harmless” incidents, especially at hill figures, but also harmful ones and of course there’s been the recent incident where paint was daubed on the The Nine Ladies stone circle. It’s an obvious enough proposition,  the idea that all monuments should be promoted as sacrosanct, even from apparently harmless stunts. It would be nice, wouldn’t it, if all monument guardians took that line and publicised it on their websites?

The ostomy stunt at the Long Man of Wilmington that we mentioned two days ago went ahead.

 

We understand that it was authorised on the basis it would cause no physical damage and wouldn’t be for long. Our thesis is that damage to respect for monuments (especially hill figures it seems) can lead to physical damage to monuments.

An ostomy pouch is to be added to The Long Man of Wilmington on Saturday “to help raise awareness of World Ostomy Day”.  It appears also that “By supporting the day the Long Man is also helping to support himself and his on-going care and maintenance with a kind donation from SecuriCare.”

This is just the latest of a very long list of brandlism and disfigurement of monuments for commercial, charitable or political purposes. (Here’s an account of a previous time the Long Man was mistreated back in 2007). We don’t think it’s right as it erodes respect and encourages other, sometimes damaging stunts. We published a very compelling article on this subject from a guest contributor a couple of years ago. It’s well worth reading. World Ostomy Day may be a very worthy cause but that’s no excuse for doing this.

If you agree you might wish to say so to the European Ostomy Association info@ilco.de and their President president@ostomyeurope.org

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